Supreme Court to Rule on Treatment of Downed Animals

Adonia David 

 The horrors of slaughterhouses were brought home to many Americans in 2007 when undercover video shot by the Humane Society of the United States at a California slaughterhouse showed workers abusing cows who were unable to walk (“downers”) by dragging them with forklifts, using water hoses on them, and shocking them with electric prods.  Footage of the video can be seen here.   The slaughterhouse was the second largest supplier of meat to the National School Lunch program, and the Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of meat following the release of the video.  California responded to this abuse by strengthening a state law relating to downed animals so that any such downed animal in a slaughterhouse is to be humanely euthanized immediately, and their meat shall not be sold for human consumption.

 The meat industry has claimed that California’s law conflicts with a federal law, the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which requires downed animals to be examined.  Under the federal regulations, if an animal shows signs of specified illnesses during the examination, its meat to be destroyed,  but otherwise it may be butchered for human consumption.  Asserting that the California law is preempted by federal law and that it violates the dormant commerce clause, the National Meat Association brought suit in National Meat Association v. Brown.  A district court judge granted an injunction which was overturned by the Ninth Circuit.  The Supreme Court granted certiaori and on November 9, 2011 heard arguments on the case.  The decision is expected in a few months, but unfortunately the Court seemed to be leaning towards the meat industry during the arguments. Continue reading

U.S. Justice Dept Joins the Fight

The U.S. Justice Department has joined the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in a lawsuit against Hallmark Meat Packing and Westland Meat Company, Inc. for defrauding the federal government.

The Humane Society of the United States had filed a qui tam action in federal district court against the two companies following their abusive treatment last year of dairy cows at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California. The abuse came to light through undercover video footage which was released nationwide, causing massive scandal, the largest beef recall in U.S. history, prosecutions of employees involved, and the closure of the slaughterhouse involved.

The meat companies were contracting with the U.S. government to supply meat for the national school lunch program. Their contract required the animals used be handled humanely. Additionally, federal law required (with some loopholes that are now being closed) that downed animals not be entered into the meat supply for human consumption. HSUS’s suit, filed under the False Claims Act (which specifically allows for qui tam suits) claims the two companies defrauded the government by violating the these requirements.

The Justice Department is quoted here as saying: “Our intervention in this case demonstrates how seriously we will pursue allegations such as these.”

The case is filed as: United States of America ex rel. The Humane Society of the United States v. Hallmark Meat Packing Company; Westland Meat Company, Inc.

-Suzanne McMillan